Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado take to Minturn | VailDaily.com

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado take to Minturn

Volunteers working on the Cougar Ridge trail transport a boulder on Saturday. From left is Kristin Vyhnal, Kitty Martin, Bob Williams and D.W. Slowey.
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com |

MINTURN — It was 90-year-old Steve Austin’s 300th volunteer project with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, but did they give him the easy job? Not a chance — he was hauling boulders using a tool he invented, The Austin, a device that looks a like a military stretcher that uses chains rather than canvas.

Workers with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado took to the Cougar Ridge Trail and the area commonly known as the Minturn Mile on Saturday to restore the summer trail. The trail will allow mountain bikers to start on Vail Mountain and end in Minturn much like skiers and snowboarders do in the winter.

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to motivating and enabling people to become active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources, according to their mission statement. Since 1984 the group has contributed a labor value of over $20 million to projects all around the state, from urban parks to alpine peaks. Austin has been on board for a large number of those projects.

“I don’t know many organizations, especially in our field of stewardship organizations, where there’s somebody as dedicated, and as talented,” said Ann Baker Easley, the executive director of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. “He has been absolutely what I would call the father of our program.”


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Easley encouraged the participants at Saturday’s work day to learn from Austin’s wisdom.

A former engineer for Bell Laboratories, one of Austin’s best-known contributions to the trail building world is his method of moving large boulders.

“It’s known coast-to-coast as ‘The Austin,’ but he doesn’t call it that,” said volunteer Bob “Rosie” Rosenzweig. “He developed it in the mid-to-late ’90s. Before that we were using blankets to move the large rocks.”

A significant part of the creating a sustainable trail depends on relocating large boulders for rock walls and water diversion. Often times an adage is observed — the bigger the rocks, the better the rock wall. Finding and moving those rocks can be the most difficult part of trail building; and that’s where Austin directs his focus.

“I’d say I’m getting too old for this, but I’m always on Austin’s crew,” said Bob Williams, 69. “He out works most of us.”

Exactly one sixth Austin’s age, 15-year-old Brenden Nielsen enjoyed his first day of trail work on Saturday. He was joined by his grandmother Danette Barrett.

“We love the outdoors, and this gives us an opportunity to give back,” Barrett said.

The Vail Valley Mountain Biking Association rallied their members to help out, as well. Familiar faces included the Wyse Brothers, Mark Luzar and Jamie Malin, among others.

“We’re building it sustainably, so it will be here for another 30 to 40 years,” Malin said of the Cougar Ridge Trail.


Work on Cougar Ridge will continue today. A U.S. Forest Service project, the local ranger district allowed Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado’s workers to camp out on a parcel of their land in Minturn.

The volunteer’s days start at 7 a.m. with breakfast prepared by volunteers. Crew chefs Connie Johnson and Elly Baldwin came in from Denver to help prepare the food and wash the dishes.

Many of the volunteers working on Cougar Ridge came in from the Front Range.

“We’re East Slope dopes,” said Glenn Ward, 77. “Anytime we can get west of Wadsworth and higher than the Platte, we’re in good shape.”

Ward has been with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado since 1990. He says he doesn’t return to his projects after he’s worked on them.

“I don’t do pleasure hikes, not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he said. “I’m just looking for the next project.”

Austin said Ward’s attitude in staying productive will suit him well as he continues to age.

“I’ve seen a lot of people in their 80s and 90s, as soon as they start sitting around, I don’t see them anymore,” Austin said.

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